Pictured: Courtney, first left
By former camper and volunteer, Courtney Evans
I first heard about OTW when I was 10. I was diagnosed with E.Coli and meningococcal septicaemia at four years old and so I spent a huge amount of time in hospital, a lot of it on dialysis. One of the play specialists, Cathy, mentioned to my mum that there’s a place where kids just like me could spend a week being themselves. As a very ill child who was monitored 24/7, I craved any sort of independence, even as young as 10 years old, so I was happy to go along.
I absolutely loved OTW. As someone often labelled as ‘the ill kid’ or ‘the one who had the kidney transplant’ I bought into the whole ethos of denouncing labels. Naturally I also got to know the volunteers as I attended camp. They truly inspired me and it wasn’t long before I made the decision to pass the magic on to the next generation of children, and volunteer as soon as I was old enough.
Becoming a volunteer
I first volunteered at the age of 19. As an ex-camper it brought back so many memories, both recent and old. I love everything about volunteering at camp, especially witnessing those moments of pure magic, the ones where campers achieve something they never thought possible, whether that’s something as awesome as getting to the top of a climbing wall, or something as simple as just letting go of their worries about being judged.
I remember one kid at a camp being very shy when his parents were there. He didn’t want to put a wig on and join in on the fun, but when they left he immediately donned a wig and even put a dress on! Without that social pressure, he felt free to do what he wanted, and have the time of his life – camp is a completely non-judgmental zone and that can be liberating for both campers and volunteers alike.
Acting as a role model to kids, giving them a week where they can ‘raise a little hell’, is what it is all about. Ensuring that those five days or so are absolutely jam-packed with silliness, achievements and magic moments, so that the awesome feelings they have when they leave -a belief they can do absolutely anything in the world- can stretch all the way to the next year and further beyond through the rest of their lives.
I couldn’t put into words how much I have gained personally from being a volunteer. It has given me an ability to work so well in a team and the confidence to step up to the plate and lead the team forward. The whole team of volunteers and staff at OTW are some of the most beautiful and supportive people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet – it’s quite unbelievable just how much love there is in our community. As a university student, volunteering has given me bucket loads of creativity and the ability to come up with inventive things, by bouncing off ideas with others.
It’s also given me the ability to travel. This summer I spent three months at OTW’s father camp in the USA – the ‘Hole In The Wall Gang Camp’, as a cabin leader, fulfilling my dream of going to America and of working at the camp where all that magic started. OTW has done so much for me and I absolutely wouldn’t be the person I am today without its influence in my life, so being given the opportunity to spread that magic is just the biggest privilege ever.
A magic memory of camp…
I have so many memories of camp, but this one always stands out. Last year I was volunteering at camp with the ‘Orange ‘ boys team aged between 8 – 10. They were very lively, very active, full to the brim with energy.
My expertise lies mainly in sports – I’m a big rugby fan, but love anything with a ball involved. So, something like Arts & Crafts isn’t really my thing, in fact it’s the one activity where I’ll usually take a more hands-off approach, making sure the kids are okay, checking they’re getting plenty of water and encouraging them with their projects.
I was sat next a young boy, who was around eight, if I remember correctly, and he sat there painting a pebble, making it look awesome. Then, he looked up and said to me ‘Courtney, why don’t you do one too?’ I said, ‘Nah buddy I’m cool, you’re doing awesome there, I’ll leave it to you’. The lad then turned to me and, suddenly, our ages were reversed – I became the eight-year-old boy and he was the 21-year-old volunteer. He replied, ‘Why not Courtney, maybe you should challenge yourself?’.
I honestly felt so humbled. I agreed and started painting a few pebbles – they weren’t much to write a home about, but the key thing that conversation taught me was that no matter how old you are, you’re never too old to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone and do something you’re not entirely comfortable with. Ever since that exchange, whenever I’ve hesitated in trying something new, I always think about that memory, and I’ll always just go right ahead and do whatever I was hesitating on.
Sometimes all we need is the voice of an eight-year-old to remind us that an old dog can learn some new tricks!